186 Union St, Providence, RI 02903
No Reservations Allowed
You would be forgiven for thinking that Oberlin is just another 21st century hipster wine bar. In many ways, you would be correct. The industrial lodge decor crafted from cedar, solid black accent, and corrugated metal ceiling are a dead giveaway; I almost forgot to mention the hanging string lighting.
But what sets Oberlin apart is the experience. The menu features a well-curated wine list and plates are creative yet simple. The wait staff never rush you, providing plenty of time to savor every bite. Don’t be surprised if you spend nearly four hours here chatting with your neighbors at a communal table outside.
Oberlin ensures that you won’t have a reason to look at your phone during your entire dining experience, perhaps except to Instagram one of the beautiful dishes brought forth from the paradise that lies beyond the swinging doors.
First there are the drinks. I almost never order Negronis because frankly, nearly every bartender is substandard at making them. For those who don’t know, a Negroni is traditionally Gin, Campari, and Sweet Vermouth. All three components of the drink are extremely strong, distinct flavors; they have to be mixed perfectly. The Negroni at the Oberlin was a heavenly blend of Ingenium Gin, Carpano Antico (a vermouth), and Cappelletti (a slightly sweeter cousin to Campari). This Negroni – rather than tasting like mouthwash per usual – instead provides the refreshment and softness of a summery Aperol Spritz with the boldness of an Old Fashioned. With each sip, your nose is bathed in an orange-raspberry perfume as a sweetness and bitterness crescendo on the taste buds for an overall flavor experience that lasts at least one minute per sip. You might only need this one cocktail for the span of the entire night.
The food format is small plates, slightly larger than might be expected for tapas but not quite a full meal in one. For two people, try ordering four to five dishes plus a dessert.
The culinary technique at Oberlin is perfect. Chef Benjamin Sukle, owner of nearby Birch and a James Beard Award Winner, is a pure master of his craft. Flavors are balanced and the ingredients are fresh and impeccably cooked. However, amid the gallery of beautiful artwork that graced our mouths that evening, all dishes lacked a hook. While the fava bean hummus with berbere-spiced cucumbers was creamy and succulent, the horseradish was completely lacking. The summer squash was dipped in ricotta and basil leaf base and was refreshingly zesty, yet it lacked the umami flavor that made you crave even more.
The star plate of the evening was undeniably the slow-roasted carrots. Oberlin has managed to turn carrots into a dish that flirts with meatiness by caramelizing them over a long period. Each bite provides a hearty sweetness that is complemented by a light crème fraîche and dill topping. The dessert, a blueberry tart with goat’s milk caramel ice-cream, provided a similar savory sugariness without overdoing it.
Portion sizes and prices were overall well-correlated, with the price being on the high end of the acceptable range. Most dishes cost between $4 (for the house-made bread plate) and $16 (for the duck). The cocktails were undervalued; the Negroni was the most expensive at $8 but an Aperol Spritz will only cost you $4. Wine prices were average, ranging between $10-$16 per glass.
If you’re looking for the perfect spot for a nice date or for drinks and a snack with three or fewer friends, Oberlin is a good value for the money. The care that goes into the ambiance, the food, and the service is worth the expense. But be careful, because you’ll be back soon.